Monday, January 24, 2011

A Sister's Plea: Let Jesse & Max Come Back

Perhaps we do not write enough about the love between siblings, but few relationships can be as precious since siblings are there from the beginning of time. Siblings mark a lifetime together that transcends the parental bond in a unique way. Tear away siblings from each other and gone are the shared memories of childhood. There is just no other way to say it: the bond that my brother and I share runs deep, as in core-of-the-earth deep. Today I am frustrated, angry, sad and motivated by discriminatory laws that have taken my brother from me and flung him across the world. So absurd is the situation that I often wonder to myself: how many American families wake up each day hoping and praying that the U.S. government will end the exile of their loved ones? What can I do to hasten the end of this diaspora?

I was born on a freezing winter afternoon in February, a day that also happened to be my brother Jesse's seventh birthday. Our birthday would be only the first of many things we would share in lifelong friendship. Jesse and I enjoy a unique closeness, a true affection for each other that is hard to describe in words. It's like Jesse is my 7-year twin with whom I share vital organs, bone marrow, even my soul. He is many things to me: yes, an older brother, but, because I admire him and respect him so much, he is also sometimes like a father to me. But most importantly, he is my best friend.

Jesse paid special attention to me as a child. He was always willing to engage, play, interact, and in this way he created a world for us. Together we put on magic shows and went on strike with picket signs to demand an increase in our allowance. Jesse eagerly shared his favorite music and his thoughts about his personal philosophy. As we grew up, our age difference began to dissolve and our friendship deepened. We have traveled all over the world together and some of the most significant experiences I have ever had were shared with Jesse.

In the year 2001 my brother met Maxi, the love of his life and his soul mate. Quickly, Maxi became an important member of our family. For me he became another brother and a dear friend. On the day I write this, Jesse and Maxi celebrate 10 years of love, commitment, adventure, and partnership.
The winter of 2001 I was a college freshman and Jesse was living and working in New York. I remember as though it were yesterday, the afternoon I received the phone call from him in my dorm room. The phone was in the hallway of my suite, I picked it up and it was an elated Jesse on the other line. His voice was filled with energy and excitement as he explained to me that he had met Maxi. “He is the one!” he exclaimed. “I am in love!” He began to pour out all of his raw emotions to me on the phone and I knew automatically that he had met his love, just like that, overnight. And that was the beginning of a long and incredible journey that would not only enrich the life of my brother but of our entire family.

I watched as Jesse and Maxi coped with the long distance and the separation. Jesse visited Maxi in Argentina as much as possible. As quickly as possible, Maxi found a job in New York and returned on a work visa. They thrived together. After 5 years, with Maxi's visa running out and no way to stay together in the U.S., they were forced to seek shelter across the ocean. This was devastating for our family. We could not believe our own Jesse and Max would be banished from the U.S. and torn from our close family to a remote country.

Having Jesse and Maxi living in NY was something that I naturally took for granted during those 5 years. It wasn’t until they lived so far away, with no sign of coming back home, that I began to realize what it meant. In the beginning I tried to be optimistic, taking their lead, I tried to look at it as an adventure, but in my heart I had an aching feeling: adventures should be born from choice. They were not free to choose this adventure, instead this new chapter was imposed upon them. This great country of ours which offers so much falls extremely short when it comes to protecting its lesbian and gay citizens. This is never more obvious than for binational couples.

I miss the 5 years we had together in NY with a profound intensity. Sharing a love for live music, Jesse and I spent many weekends together going to concerts, discovering New York and going to social events and parties. We celebrated New Year's Eve together religiously, and of course, we were always together on our birthday. This year again, we will be apart in February and no email or phone call can make up for that loss. Almost three years have passed since I have had Jesse and Max in my life in an everyday way. For a time I moved to Budapest and we re-connected, but of course that could only be a temporary salve. They eventually found a new home in London, where the British government recognized their relationship.

As many families learn, the plight of same-sex binational couples is devastating on not only the couple but all those who love and care for them. We have been robbed of the privilege to experiencing each other in the regular way. I cannot hop on a bus or train and see my brother. I cannot call him on a whim, due to the time difference. I go out in the city, wander and explore, see art, and feel the deep absence of my brother and comrade. Daily events are lost to each other, they cannot longer be shared in real time, experiences start to slip through the cracks, and life inevitably moves on. When we do get to meet on holidays, we are brought together for a joyous week or two but it is just not the same. Sad to say, but those reunions contain a hollowness. There is a gentle scramble which reflects the dire need to make up for time lost. Our lifetime of shared experiences is fractured year after year because of discrimination built into the laws of this country. There can be no reason for our own country to be tearing apart our family.

I want my brother to have the choice to come home with Maxi. These laws are inhumane. I am thankful every day that Jesse and Maxi have found a way to be together when so many binational gay couples have been torn apart for good. But the price has not been small. In order for Jesse and Maxi to stay together they are banished into exile. They are not free to come home and be with their family. Jesse should be able to sponsor Maxi for a visa so that they can come back to the U.S. and marry and so that Maxi can be given a green card based on their marriage. There is only one reason that is not happening right now: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We must end discrimination by the federal government against gay and lesbian couples.

Until DOMA is repealed, my family will continue to suffer. My parents save their hard earned dollars to make the expensive journey to Europe once a year to see Jesse and Maxi, while we otherwise satisfy ourselves on their ability to make infrequent visits here. This injustice must end. I join other family members of binational couples who fight against this discrimination. I encourage others reading this to help join us in our effort to bring our loved ones home.

See also: Forced Into Exile, Jesse & Max Fight To Return: File Fiancé Visa Petition and Challenge DOMA, November 15, 2010
Another Thanksgiving Without Jesse & Max A Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA, November 21, 2010.


  1. You should def try to share your story with Oprah on her new network. This is just another reason why it's important to end the discriminatory DOMA act.

    I'm an american living in France with my other half who is French.

    Here is a link to OWN. I think a story like this will touch many PRO Doma supporters.

  2. This is a beautiful piece written and it makes me sad because I know what you and your family are going through. I currently live in a country where my partner is not allowed and when I travel back to America in a month she will not be allowed to join me there either. I live in a very small community in America and if I am lucky someone may be willing to sponsor my partner, who is from the Philippines, for a work visa.

    I have found out that we can get into Canada if we live together for a year through a program, but I don't think I should have to move to another country. I want to share my partner with my family.

    I recently cried when I read that three states are actually thinking about denying homosexual people the right to adopt. It doesn't look like America is moving forward, but moving backward. I was born in a country where I am supposed to be an equal citizen, but I am not, your brother and his partner are not and Michael from above and his partner are not.

    Though it may be that my partner and I end up becoming Canadian citizens, I will not stop fighting for the rights of my American brothers and sisters. We, every human being, deserves to be treated as a human being.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Please contact us at if you want to share your story with our readers and join our campaign. All communications are confidential and you may remain anonymous if you wish. Thank you for your comment. We hope and your partner succeed in finding a way to live together as we fight to end the deportations, separations and exile caused by unfair laws in the United States.
    Lavi Soloway